Skip to Main Content

Oilers grab Yakupov with No. 1 pick

by Mike G. Morreale

PITTSBURGH -- Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting did his best to remain calm, cool and collected as he sat behind the podium to face the media for the first time as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.


He excelled at that too. When asked which players he would prefer to play with whenever he does make the big club, the 18-year-old right wing said "with all my team."

Yakupov became the first Russian-born player selected No. 1 overall at the NHL Draft since Alex Ovechkin went to the Washington Capitals in 2004 when Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini announced him as the team's top choice on Friday at Consol Energy Center.

"Edmonton is a great city and crazy town for hockey … it's a hockey town and I play hockey and I just want to play my best hockey," Yakupov said.

One would assume Tambellini just couldn't imagine denying his loyal fan base a top line that could give opposing coaches gray hairs for years to come.

"Just the natural ability, the skill set that Nail has is elite," Tambellini said. "We've been talking about elite athletes coming to our organization. He's dangerous and he's hungry to score goals and he's a pretty good fit with the people we have."

After striking gold in 2010 with left wing Taylor Hall and in 2011 with center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- both taken with the No. 1 choice in those drafts -- Tambellini connected for the natural hat trick when he tabbed NHL Central Scouting's No. 1 overall North American skater.

Does Yakupov feel he's ready for the NHL as an 18-year-old?

"Why not?" Yakupov asked his questioner. "I think I'm ready for NHL. I want to try. I have whole summer to train and work with Edmonton. This is a great team, a young team, and they play good hockey. It'll be good playing with those players."

Choosing Yakupov officially put an end to the speculation that Tambellini might trade down in an effort to obtain a few additional assets while choosing defenseman Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (who went second to Columbus). Instead, Tambellini, whose team has finished no higher than fourth in the Northwest Division in any of the past five seasons, opted for the most coveted forward in the draft.

"I was nervous sitting there and waiting," Yakupov said. "My mom, dad, uncle and first coach were with me.

"But I'm No. 1 [player picked] … no question now. I feel great now."

NHL Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston said he hasn't seen a player with Yakupov's ability in some time.

"This player is worth the price of admission to watch him in warmups," Eggleston said. "I haven't seen a kid like this with hand speed in some time. He has quick reflexes and his decision-making and reactions are lightning-quick. He might have the quickest stick I've seen in memory; he protects the puck well and is a franchise-type player in the waiting. He beats defenders with ease with the puck on a string."

Yakupov is an ethnic Tatar from the city of Nizhnekamsk, 500 miles east of Moscow. If he does become an NHL star, he'd become the first player from that region to do so. Despite playing just 42 regular-season games, Yakupov finished third on the team with 69 points, including 31 goals. He also had a plus-15 rating and 12 power-play goals.

"His first step and ability to control bouncing pucks, knock them down and make a play are the best of any of the guys in the draft, in my opinion," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He really gets up to top speed very quickly and his hands are outstanding. Like Pavel Bure, Yakupov is dangerous every shift. He may not have been dominant on every shift like Bure was, but he created something every shift … you have to be aware where he is on the ice all the time."

There's no doubt the 18-year-old Yakupov, who patterns his game after former NHL great Bure, had captured the fancy of every NHL scout and general manager.

Despite being sidelined on four different occasions this season due to a back injury, knee injury, suspension and upper body ailment, the 5-foot-10 1/2, 189-pounder has proven capable of handling the adversity.

"I just want to just work and show how I can play hockey and help my team to win every game … that's what I want," Yakupov said.

Yakupov represented Russia at the 2012 World Junior Championship held in Edmonton and Calgary, finishing tied for the tournament lead with nine assists. He helped Russia to a silver medal and recorded four assists in a semifinal-round victory over Team Canada.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

View More

The NHL has updated its Privacy Policy effective January 16, 2020. We encourage you to review it carefully.

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.